Lethal Altidore-Johnson combo lead U.S. to 1-0 win over Honduras
SANDY, Utah—Three thoughts on the U.S.'s 1-0 win against Honduras in Tuesday's World Cup qualifier:
• Fabian Johnson and Jozy Altidore are becoming a lethal combination. For the second straight game, the U.S. broke through on a connection from Johnson, the left-sided marauder, and Altidore, who tied a U.S. men's record by scoring in his fourth straight game. Give plenty of credit to Altidore for being in the right spot and hitting a perfectly-placed, off-speed spinner into the Honduran goal, but that goal wouldn't have happened unless Johnson had gone on another swashbuckling run upfield from his left back position. (Graham Zusi also had a terrific dummy on the play to set Johnson free with the ball.) On a night when Honduras made life awfully difficult for the Americans, it took 73 minutes for the U.S. to get the goal it needed. But several of the previous chances had come when Johnson pushed forward to deliver a cross. The German-American has turned in two excellent performances on the left side, in midfield and as a fullback, after struggling a bit in the games before that.
• The U.S. has one foot in Brazil 2014. It was a gorgeous night in Utah, but the contest often was anything but the beautiful game. Honduras played scrappy and tough, frustrating the U.S., and while the Americans would always prefer a dominating performance like the one against Panama, this victory showed some of the grit that comes when you win without playing your best. Bottom line: The U.S. bagged a perfect nine points out of nine in these three June World Cup qualifiers and Jurgen Klinsmann's squad now heads into September with 13 points in first place in the Hexagonal, a full five points ahead of archrival Mexico. Not many people would have expected such a margin, but the U.S. has gotten the results it needs on the road and, most importantly, taken care of business at home, winning three of three games on friendly soil so far. Compare that to the Mexicans, who have managed just a meager three ties at home. The U.S. hasn't clinched a berth in World Cup 2014 yet, but with this victory it's possible a ticket to Brazil could be punched in September (perhaps at home against Mexico).
• Jermaine Jones needs to understand his role better. Jones is a Klinsmann favorite, but Michael Bradley is the central midfielder the U.S. needs to build around, not Jones. The German-American spent too much of the game not allowing Bradley to be Bradley. What do I mean by that? Too often Bradley has to read what Jones is doing and base his movements and actions off that. It should more often be the other way around, with Jones deferring to Bradley. Geoff Cameron seemed to understand that better in last week's win against Panama, sometimes dropping deep and consistently playing off what Bradley was doing. What's more, because Jones so readily draws yellow cards, as he did Tuesday, he becomes a game-long risk of being sent off for a second. (Honduras was clearly trying to bait him into one.) Cameron only played one and one half games next to Bradley in the central midfield, but he was an upgrade on Jones during that time.